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REELING IN THE YEARS; POWERFUL NEW DRUGS THAT PROMISE YOUTH.

Byline: Alex Kuczynski The New York Times

On a sunny morning recently, an elegantly dressed woman strolled down Fifth Avenue, past million-dollar limestone maisonettes into the office of Dr. Adrienne Denese. The fashion publicity agent from the higher rungs of New York society asked not to be named, but revealed that she visits Denese's clinic to receive her weekly dose of the 1990s version of youth elixir: human growth hormone.

Denese, a trim blonde with skin that is smooth but oddly hard to the touch, is not your average physician. A series of injections of human growth hormone, or hGH, at her clinic, she maintains, gives patients glowing skin, increased muscle mass, elevated sex drive, a lighter mood, sharper mental acuity and the whiz-bang metabolism of an 18-year-old.

The powerful hormone, which was developed to treat children afflicted by dwarfism, has become a trendy anti-aging potion among Hollywood stars and executives, as well as some of New York's social elite, despite a 1996 study that showed it has no anti-aging benefits and federal government warnings of potentially harmful side effects. Doctors say thousands of Americans are currently using the hormone, which costs $200 to $400 a week, in hope of reversing the droops, dwindles and sags of middle age.

Human growth hormone is just one therapy deployed by a growing field of medical practitioners who call themselves anti-aging specialists, a legion of latter-day Ponce de Leons. Their practices are rooted in plastic surgery, but go far beyond it - to hormone replacement therapy, vitamin supplementation, dermatology, physical therapy and other procedures, both internal and cosmetic. Call it one-stop shopping for graying boomers, the youth-obsessed generation that has resolved to not go gentle into its Geritol years.

With one American turning 50 every 7.6 seconds, industries that promise to cushion the indignity of aging are flourishing, from retirement-oriented mutual funds to face-saving plastic surgery. Bookstore shelves are crowded with volumes such as ``Reversing Human Aging'' and ``Stopping the Clock.'' A book due in October by an anti-aging guru, Dr. Timothy J. Smith, ``Renewal: The Anti-Aging Revolution,'' is featured on the cover of the current Publisher's Weekly.

The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, which was founded by 12 doctors in 1993, currently boasts a membership of more than 4,300 United States doctors, who specialize in the all-encompassing approach to youth preservation.

``We're not about growing old gracefully,'' said Dr. Ronald Klatz, 43, the group's president, who practices in Chicago. ``We're about NEVER growing old.''

Magic potions

In Los Angeles, human growth hormone and other anti-aging hormones are popular in the movie industry, says Dr. Ronald Lawrence, an assistant clinical professor of neurology at UCLA Medical School.

``There are probably about 20 doctors out here, between Beverly Hills and Hollywood, who between them have hundreds of clients,'' said Lawrence, who prescribes some hormones to fight aging, but not hGH, which he considers too risky. He compared the movie colony's interest in hormones to the plot of ``Death Becomes Her,'' a film in which Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep drink a potion that will render them not only immortal but also firm up their thighs forever.

``But no one will talk because people in the movie industry are close-mouthed about their medical histories,'' Lawrence said. ``Everyone's very concerned about hiring an actor for a movie and hearing people say: `He's on what? What's he taking that for? Is he sick?' ''

Actor Nick Nolte, for one, was spotted at the last convention of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, held in Las Vegas in December; Nolte went from booth to booth, collecting literature. Dr. Eric Braverman of New York said that Nolte is a patient of his and a devotee of hGH, although the actor declined to comment.

Another physician, Murray Susser, who is based in West Los Angeles, says he treats about 50 members of Hollywood's elite, from movie stars to studio heads, and has even treated the ailing Labrador retriever of one of his clients.

``The guy sent his private jet for the hormone, and the first day the dog got up from his bed,'' Susser said.

Clinics and practices devoted to every facet of the anti-aging movement - where patients can get their faces lifted, their blood pumped full of hormones and their thighs massaged with $40,000 anti-cellulite devices - are springing up in the plastic-surgery strongholds of the United States.

In Las Vegas, Dr. Alan P. Mintz, a former professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, oversees the hormonal futures of more than 60 patients from across the country. At his clinic, the Cenegenics Anti-Aging Center, patients undergo a daylong physical exam and blood tests that look at hormone levels; Mintz and his staff then prescribe a daily dose of hormones, enzymes and vitamins. The cost: $1,300 for the physical, and up to $1,600 a month for the supplement package. (That's $19,200 a year. Mintz recommends the package for life; it is not covered by health insurance.)

``Our goal is to bring the endocrine system back to where it was at age 30,'' said Mintz, who himself takes scores of vitamins, hormones and enzymes on a daily basis, which he injects under the skin, inserts under the tongue, rubs into his skin and ingests in pills, capsules and powders. ``I've been taking hGH for 3-1/2 years, and I've never felt better or stronger,'' he said.

Powerful drug

Anti-aging specialists promote a variety of hormones, including melatonin, testosterone and DHEA. But the most faddish, and most controversial, is hGH. An extremely powerful drug, hGH - in an earlier organic formulation - was blamed for an outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, a potentially fatal disorder linked to mad cow disease.

The current synthetic formulation of hGH, manufactured by pharmAaceutical giants like Eli Lilly and Genentech, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adult use 10 months ago, but only for select patients who suffer from AIDS-related wasting syndrome; from a rare form of growth hormone deficiency, or for recovery from surgery on the pituitary gland (the body's source of growth hormone).

An anti-aging course of hGH injections, which can be self-administered, can cost more than $20,000 a year. The physicians who prescribe it make bold promises: Besides redistributing body fat and building lean muscle, the doctors say, hGH is reputed to enhance memory, sex drive and cardiovascular capacity, increase skin firmness and elevate mood. The doctors also say they have seen no adverse side effects.

``My patients who used to take anti-depressants don't take them anymore,'' said Denese, whose practice includes models, bankers and the occasional faded rock star (Deborah Harry of Blondie is a client). ``They take hGH, and it makes their mood lighter. Even I take it, and I'm more animated, I feel good, and I don't take Prozac anymore.''

In December, Denese passed the first certifying exam given by the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine, although the board itself is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, the federal arm that regulates groups professing medical expertise.

Medical authorities who are not associated with the anti-aging board or its affiliate, the anti-aging academy, caution against the use of hormones, especially hGH. Dr. Robert Butler, a professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and director of the International Longevity Center affiliated with Mount Sinai Medical Center, says hGH requires further study before it is used as a youth elixir. The largest study so far, of 52 men, 70 and older, in 1996, found that after six months the subjects had an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat, but there was no improvement in strength, endurance or mental ability. Side effects, including swollen anAkles and aching joints, caused 26 percent of the men to reduce their doses of the hormone.

``It is our considered opinion that DHEA, melatonin, testosterone or hGH should not be recommended to patients,'' said Butler, who did not participate in the 1996 study. ``We could be deeply regretful of hGH and DHEA; hGH causes things to grow and may contribute to certain cancers. It may also cause carpal tunnel syndrome, enlargement of the heart, enlargement of the bones, and there's no legitimate appropriate use.''

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Who looks youngest of us all?

Growth hormones join other elixirs that claim to restore youth

Michael Owen Baker/Daily News

(2) New York City's Dr. Bruce Nadler prescribes human growth hormone but acknowledges that it can have freakish side effects, such as abnormal growth of the skull, causing the teeth to spread apart. The drug is now being used to combat the effects of aging.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

(3) ``Death Becomes Her,'' starring Meryl Streep, takes a comedic look at the endless search for youth.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 1998
Words:1464
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